This week in Postcard, Matt Blackwell recommends Luang Prabang, Laos
Nestled on the banks of the Mekong – a river that spans 4,350km and passes through six countries – is the quaint waterside town of Luang Prabang. Situated in central northern Laos, it was the capital of the country until the Communist takeover in 1975 and has since become a regular stop on the backpacking route of Southeast Asia. Today, Luang Prabang’s old town centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers a haven for those looking for a bit of peace of mind and time to unwind.
After two days spent on a crowded boat slowly chugging our way down the Mekong, disembarking at Luang Prabang was a pleasure and the pretty little town instantly captured my heart. Riverside bars and restaurants line the streets, most with fairy lights and comfy floor-level seating, creating a wonderful ambience in which to appreciate the greenery of the surrounding mountains and the placid waters of the river. It is honestly one of the most relaxed vibes I have ever experienced and I would love to revisit someday.
My favourite place:
One of the best ways to appreciate Luang Prabang is to go with an open mind and mingle with the other friendly tourists to get their opinions on where to visit. This tactic led us to the Kuang Si Falls, which can be found approximately 30km south of the town itself. The main waterfall of the park is 60m high and cascades down over three tiers, but there are numerous smaller pools along the way, all with stunning turquoise waters that you can swim in. Make sure you check out the rope swing! All local tuk-tuk drivers are well versed in taking groups of tourists to the falls and the round trip should cost you in the region of RO1.4 each (based on five people sharing). There is also an Asiatic black bear rescue centre within the grounds of the waterfall park, allowing you the chance to come face to muzzle with 23 of the lumbering furballs.
From golden-roofed temples to crumbling colonial French architecture, Luang Prabang offers a fantastic fusion of culture and there is plenty to keep visitors occupied. Wat Xieng Thong is the town’s oldest monastery and hands down the most beautiful. It is open daily from 6am to 6pm and offers a fascinating insight into the life of a monk. The night market on Sisavangvong Road is a riot of colour and a must-see on any visit to Luang Prabang. Utopia bar and restaurant occupies an enviable position overlooking the river and is one of the best places in town to catch the sunset. Laos is also incredibly cheap, meaning you can live like a king during your stay should you wish. The cheapest night we spent in the country cost us the equivalent of 700 baisa each, for a basic three-bed room with a bathroom.
Everything closes very early in Luang Prabang and the majority of the town will be shut down by 11.30pm. For those who aren’t quite ready for bed, however, a few spots can be found, including – bizarrely – the local bowling alley. Ask around for recommendations, but be mindful of scams and theft.
If you’re in the hunt for some authentic mementos of your time in Luang Prabang be sure to head to the night market, where you’ll find a colourful array of locally produced crafts. Some of the most popular items are textiles (duvet covers, cushion covers and pillow sets), bracelets and the town’s traditional beverages.
Where to stay:
Luang Prabang has become accustomed to an influx of tourists over recent years and consequently there are dozens of guesthouses, all keen to receive your custom. We stayed at the Sivilay Guest House, which offered clean rooms at a great rate, but there are plenty of others to choose from, meaning that reservations do not always need to be made in advance. If you’re after a bit of luxury, try the Amantaka, located in the centre of town and just five kilometres from the airport.
Top five things to do:
1. Visit the Kuang Si Falls
2. Take a trip to the Wat Xieng Thong monastery
3. Enjoy a sunset over the Mekong at Utopia
4. Shop at the night market
5. Sample the local nightlife, including bowling